Did you know that retirement assets are not automatically split in a divorce? The Wiser Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), published a MUST READ document. This checklist helps women make smart, informed financial decisions when it comes to pensions and divorce. Don’t shortchange yourself during a very emotional time. Secure your future BEFORE the divorce is final so you don’t end up wishing things were different.
Also…don’t ASSUME anything! Most women think that their lawyers are familiar with the many federal and state laws that set the rules for pension-splitting. Surprisingly, many lawyers do not know and don’t take the time to find out everything. Lawyers need to prepare an acceptable pension order that fully protects the wife’s interests, explain all of the rights and options in collecting a pension share, and follow up. This includes ensuring that pension plan officials receive and approve the pension order promptly after a divorce is final. Missing any of these points can result in a significant amount of lost benefits from what is often the largest asset in a divorce. One example of an attorney error is neglecting to negotiate to include a survivor benefit. If a husband dies at an early age, the wife will receive nothing from his pension benefit.
Benefits that may be treated as marital property include company pension and 401(k) plans, federal, state and local government employee retirement plans, military retirement and Individual Retirement Accounts, among others. A divorce court needs to issue a special court order, depending on the type of plan (private or governmental), requiring the retirement plan in very specific terms to give her a portion of her husband’s benefits. The most commonly used court order is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). By the way, this can be a costly process. Worth every penny though and fees can be negotiated as part of the divorce settlement.
The most important take away is don’t leave everything to your lawyer. Be proactive and be sure you get the answers you need BEFORE your divorce is final. Consult with a financial planner, preferably someone who has worked with divorcees. A Clarity Wealth Development Financial Advisor is a great place to start!
For more financial security tips from WISER, check out these links: